Close Encounters of the Dog Kind

I had a little run-in with an Australian Cattle Dog this morning. He had a great time chasing me down the block, pretending I was a steer that needed rounding up. I can’t begrudge the little guy; he was only doing what comes natural. Of course, it would have been better for him and I if his owner had kept in in the yard where he belonged. (In defense, I’ve been riding that route everyday for two years and I’ve never seen him before, so I suspect he’d gotten loose without his guardian’s knowledge.)

To get him off my heels, I used the old “issue a command” technique. It was actually quite funny. When he was close enough to hear me loud-and-clear, I looked back directly into his eyes, and in a firm voice, issued a “sit” command. You’ve never seen a dog shift gears from predator to confused puppy so fast. In that split second I went from being prey to being something that approximated his Boss. He immediately peeled off, walking back to his yard looking dejected and confused.

In all my years of riding all over the countryside, I’ve never had to resort to physical violence to convince a dog to leave me alone. A majority of the time all that was required was continuing to ride a straight line at my existing pace. Most dogs are just responding to their prey instincts and when it becomes obvious that a bicyclist is not prey, they give up the chase.

Following are a few of the techniques I use in my close encounters of the dog kind. I employ these in ascending order based upon the situation:

  • In the case of a small dog I’m sure I can outrun, I accelerate out of reach.
  • In the case of medium to large dogs that I can’t outrun, I keep riding my same pace and hold a straight line. Most dogs just give up after a few seconds.
  • In the case of a persistent dog like my friend this morning, I wait until he gets close enough to hear me clearly and I issue a “sit” command. This works about 95% of the time.
  • If a dog is unresponsive to the “sit” command and comes directly along side, I squirt him with water from my water bottle. This often works well to defuse the situation.
  • If a dog gets into a dangerous position that may cause an accident, I stop and place the bike between me and the dog. Typically, once I stop, the dog backs off. In the rare case where the dog continues to be aggressive, a squirt from the water bottle usually sends him packing.
  • As a last resort measure, I carry pepper spray in my bike bag. In over 40 years of riding bikes in the city, the suburbs, the forest, and on country roads with free-roaming dogs, I’ve never had to resort to using it.

Certainly, encounters with loose dogs can be scary, and even in rare cases, dangerous, but having a plan and a few tricks up your sleeve can go a long way to diffusing an encounter long before it turns into something serious.

[Note: Please don’t submit comments describing or recommending violence against dogs; they won’t be published. —.ed]

40 Responses to “Close Encounters of the Dog Kind”

  • graciela. says:

    I never thought of trying a sit command on a dog I didn’t know. But that means that they will have to know the command in the first place, right? Sometimes I see rogue dogs that live on the street and don’t have owners so I don’t think that would work on them.

  • Marc Charbonneau says:

    I’ve heard of others saying dog treats in your bar bag are a good “last resort” measure. A bit more non-threatening than carrying pepper spray around.

  • Billy says:

    As i was approaching a store, I hopped up a curb and dismounted. A lady was walking her two mini-dogs and one of them ran up to me on his extendo-leash. He bit me in the leg and drew blood. I told the lady sternly to get a better leash and she did not say sorry. Grrrrr….

  • Alan says:

    @Marc

    That’s a super idea! Thanks for the tip.

    Alan

  • thomas says:

    if you have gatorade or some other non water liquid, you can spray it on the ground in front of them. tend to go and lick it and leave you alone.

  • brad says:

    I’ve been bitten twice, and learned from both mistakes: the first time it was a German Shepherd who seemed friendly enough so I knelt down and held out my hand, palm up, in a non-threatening way so he could sniff my hand and we could make friends. But he bit my hand instead.

    The second time I was riding and a dog came running out of his driveway toward me. I could see that I couldn’t outrun him so I got off the bike and put the bike between me and the dog. The dog remained threatening, barking and snarling, I tried squirting my water bottle at him to no avail, and finally his owners came out and called him in. When he got most of the way down his driveway I got back on my bike, and he caught my movement out of the corner of his eye, turned on a dime and burst through the bushes, nailing me on my calf. There was a lot of blood and I had to get a tetanus shot.

    So, lesson 1 is, don’t be too eager to make friends with dogs even if they seem friendly at first; lesson 2 is don’t get back on your bike until you’re absolutely sure the dog is out of range and you can outrun it!

  • dave says:

    I’ve been getting chased by dogs a lot lately. I think that it’s because I’m leaving work a little later than usual and I’m riding through one particular neighborhood at the prime after-work-dog-walking-hour. It’s surprising to me how many people walk their dogs off-leash when they apparently aren’t trained well enough to listen to commands. Most of the dogs are pretty good natured and are just up for a good chase. They look pretty happy and run to the back of the bike and then chase along for a while. A couple have been aggressive and threatening. They run to the front of the bike to block my path. Their bark, snarl and growling is very different and threatening. They carry their heads lower and are more crouched down, ready for acceleration and jumping. I don’t like those dogs. I guess I should start carrying a water bottle…

  • Marc says:

    And you still had time to stop and take that picture…=)

  • voyage says:

    An old tennis ball or a small “dog ball” carried in one’s windbreaker pocket or spare water bottle cage can be thrown (exaggerate the throwing motion) to distract a dog and buy time to escape back to cycling bliss. This strategy would probably also work using a thrown squeak toy or an empty soda can containing a few pebbles. Just be careful you don’t train the dog or it will come after you every day to play. Regarding pepper spray — check your state and local regs.

    Remember: in farming areas of USA, farm dogs love to chase pickup trucks and the less experienced dogs invariably lose in a collision…

  • Janice in GA says:

    I’ve had a couple of occasions where I had to use my “bad dog” voice. I’m around dogs a LOT during the week, and I have an excellent bad dog voice.

    I just pitch my voice as deep and growly as I can and shout “BAD DOG. NO!” It stops a lot of dogs in their tracks, for the same reason your Sit command stopped yours.

    Combine the Bad Dog Voice with the Pointing Finger of Doom, and I can derail most dogs running in my direction. :)

    Luckily, I don’t see many dogs on my day-to-day routes now. ::knocks wood surreptitiously::

  • arevee says:

    The dog in the photo isn’t an Australian Cattle Dog in the photo. The true cattle dog is an exceptionally tenacious little (30-45lbs) dog. I wouldn’t want to be chased down by one, though I find by stopping, remaining calm and putting the bike between myself and the dog I can usually calm down a frantic, prey driven pooch to the point he or she will stop. The cattle dog can be seen here – http://www.22dog.com/breeds/Australian-Cattle-Dog.html

  • Alan says:

    The dog in the photo is my Australian shepherd, not to be confused with an Australian cattle dog, the likes of which chased me today.

  • Eddie says:

    Brad – I’ve used the befriending technique before with more luck than you. Maybe it’s just the luck of the draw. I’ll heed your advice in future and try the sit command!

  • eddie f says:

    May we write comments suggesting violence toward dog owners who put their animals in danger as they put cyclists in danger by not keeping the pets on a leash? I never fault the dog. Their are mostly kind, warm, well meaning beings. But they are really stupid about logic and reasoning. They don’t know a bike from a fence post…but the owners do.

  • Mark says:

    If I think I can outrun the dog, I’ll do so. If the dog seems particularly fast, or if I’m going uphill or otherwise slowly, then I usually either stop and say hi to the dog in a friendly manner (I rather like dogs, so this comes naturally to me), or, on one or two occasions, I’ve barked back at the dog. To be honest, this latter strategy is probably unwise, especially with larger dogs, but it seemed to work when I tried it.

  • Janice in GA says:

    Alan: hooray for black tri Aussies! I have one too. I don’t let him chase bikes.

    Brad: I think current wisdom says to present you hand palm down with fingers curled (like a loose fist) into your palm with greeting a strange dog.

    Or better yet, don’t greet the dog at all. It’s hard not to, since most dogs are just awesome.

  • Alan says:

    @Janice

    Aren’t they super! That’s our girl Chloe. We have a blue merle boy, too. They’d both love to chase bikes, but that’s strictly forbidden, of course. :-)

  • Dalton says:

    I haven’t had any dogs chase me so far in my short commuting career (just a couple months), but I have had some menacing dogs come at me while walking. I always stop moving, lean a little forward and then use my deep command voice and tell them,”GO HOME!” and for some reason they’ve all just turned around and walked away. Very surprising, but hey, I’ll take it.

    As for dogs, I often walk my lab off the leash, but he has never once (in 8.5 years) chased anything but a squirrel. We come across bikes all the time on our walks and all he wants to do is get away from them. Then again, if I didn’t already know he wouldn’t chase, I would NEVER let him off the leash.

  • Pete says:

    @ eddie f:
    Agreed, I use the pepper spray on the owners, not the dogs! It trains them very quickly to control their dogs better. ;-)

  • brad says:

    I should have said that the befriending technique has worked fine for me most of my life except for the one incident where it backfired. I seem to be a magnet for most dogs and young children, and I still manage to make friends with nearly all dogs I encounter while bicycling. The German Shepherd bite happened nearly 30 years ago; the other bite was about 10 years ago. I reckon I’ve encountered hundreds of dogs on my bike over the year and most of them were friendly or became so once I got off my bike.

  • Steve Butcher says:

    Another technique I’ve used with some success is a few rings of my Crane bicycle bell. As you know, it is a very shrill sound. It appears to somewhat perplex the dog. Most of the time, however, I just keep pedaling at a constant speed and talk friendly to the dog. I doubt most of the dogs in my area are familiar with the command “sit”. I, like most, have been barked at or chased by a variety of dogs. My “scariest” moment came when two irate appearing German Shepherds chased me as I was slowly and tiredly climbing a hill. Fortunately, they gave up the chase before things got “ugly”.

  • Zyzzyx says:

    Some twenty years ago I had an issue with a dog on my commute to the local Community College. It was in the county, so I took the back road to get there. I could tell some new folks moved into one of the few houses along the way. Their dog decided to chase me and actually nip at my heels while pedalling. Tried many things, commanding, yelling, stopping, even squirting with water. Nothing. I was about ready to start using my Zefal HP-X frame pump (remember those?) and whack ‘em across the nose, but decided not to. Took another water bottle and made a very mild ammonia solution (or was it vinegar, been too long, I forget). Next time I rode by, he chased, I squirted, he stopped. The next time I rode by, he chased to the road and stopped as I reached for the bottle. After that he’d jump off the porch and stop after about five feet. I later learned that he would still chase many other cyclists, but he learned to recognize me.

  • Cafn8 says:

    Thanks for the the tips. I don’t encounter a lot of dogs on a daily basis, and when I do they are generally walking on leashes with their owners and not interested in me. A couple of mornings ago, however, I met a beagle and its owner walking in the direction opposite to me on the same side of the street. The dog was at the end of a fully extended yo-yo leash, and therefore able to do as it wished within a 15′ radius of the owner. As I approached fairly quickly (high teens/ low 20s) the dog saw me and darted from the sidewalk into the street in my path, it occurred to me that a leash that long could easily get tangled if the dog crossed my path, and cause a really bad situation for both of us. Luckily no cars were passing me at the time, as I was able to swerve out of range. The dog’s frightened owner was powerless. It seems that a leash that long can be worse than none at all.

  • graciela. says:

    Marc’s doggy treat idea reminds of what you’d see in cartoons where a burglar would throw sausages or a big steak at a guard dog and the dog would go for the food instead of the burglar. :)

    Do the treats work? I’m a cat person and know very little about dogs but I live next to 2 rottweilers and some bull dogs and I fear they will jump the fence one day and get me.

  • kramodiak says:

    Excellent advice that I have fortunately not had to employ that often. The worst dog/bike accident/incident that I have personally ever encounterred [only as a witness] occurred on a rural route in southwestern Ohio resulting in a canine death caused by the front spokes of a bike brought to a sudden halt by the dog’s neck. Cyclist was uninjured but severely shook up, in addition to ruining his front wheel. The one and only time the suggested measures did not work in my experience.

  • Bokchoicowboy says:

    One thing that should be remembered is when a dog bites you, even if the bite does not break the skin, you should notify the local Animal Control. In most municipalities it is a citable offense for a dog owner if the animal bites someone. If the animal has rabies the situation becomes even more important. Also, the dog owner is responsible for covering any medical bills, so an Animal Control incident report goes a long way as evidence if the owner balks at paying up.

    It is helpful to report dogs that habitually chase cyclists or simply roam around unleashed. The more information an Animal Control officer can get the better. Since most all info goes into a database it is easy for the officers to focus on problem animals and owners. Habitual offenders end up getting cited/sued by the municipality in most cases, but only if there is enough info.

  • Richard Masonerj says:

    I used to bike regularly across Illinois farm country, which is filled with farm dogs on the loose, so I have lots of experience with all kinds of dogs.

    Most dogs just want to play, run, whatever — which is fine, except they’re still a hazard to you on your bike since they have a tendency to run right into your front wheel. Stopping and a firm “NO” command mostly seems to work. Treats are a really bad idea for these dogs, because you’re encouraging them to play this “chase the cyclist” game.

    I did have a problem with a pair of dogs that regularly lunged for my legs . I was mostly able to outrun them, but it was getting old. The treat idea did *not* work for them at all. They were out for blood, and didn’t want to make friends with the cyclist. A couple of times the only thing stopping them from getting a piece of me was a frame pump. Vinegar in a water gun had no effect. I finally resorted to pepper spray on these guys, which stopped them cold. After that, they’d still start to give chase, but they kept their distance. Appeals to the apparent owner and the county sheriff had no effect as well.

  • graciela. says:

    Richard, that sounds very scary! You make a good point about not throwing treats their way since it can reinforce bad behavior. Then they’d chase you all the time cos they know you’d eventually throw a treat at them. Good to know.

  • dwainedibbly says:

    Be careful befriending. I tried that with a cat once and ended up requiring the “post-exposure rabies prophylaxis” treatment. Now I have a super power: rabies immunity!

    As for pepper spray, the only time Mrs Dibbly & I ever used it was on a ride in the countryside, riding our tandem, against a very large, very threatening dog. Tandems may be fast, but they don’t have the “snap” of a single and he got the jump on us. Out came the Halt. One little misting and the poor guy peeled off and let us alone. That’s a good point about pepper spray: you don’t need a direct hit right into the animal’s face. Dogs have extremely sensitive noses, as we all know, and one wiff of capsaicin will make any dog think again. It’s a good thing since trying to spray the sauce while sprinting isn’t the best formula for maintaining good bike control.

    Other point: if you’re on a tandem, let the stoker have the dog balls, cans with pennies, pepper spray, etc, etc. The captain should concentrate on driving.

  • Jimbo says:

    what can I say but go Aussie go!

  • Bruce says:

    Most of my dog encounters have been more of the good-natured chase variety but I’ll tell you about one particularly harrowing ride for me. It was a 300km brevet I rode this past spring. New route for me and I was the only one riding. After dealing with brutal headwinds for most of the day and missing a turn it was getting rather late. I was about 270km into the ride and it was near midnight. I was riding down a road that was lined on both sides with acreages. I have a good front LED headlight (B&M Ixon) and a weak LED light on my helmet for reading signs, route sheets, etc. Great straight ahead viewing, but other than that my visibility off to the sides was very poor. Along this stretch I must have had a dozen or so dogs give chase. The problem was I could hear their barks closing in on me but had no way of telling whether they were fenced in, loose, cheerful, vicious, getting too close or whatever. Just the sound of the barking drawing ever nearer with a very fatigued brain. After one chase I’d have only a couple of minutes of peace before the experience would begin again. Not enough time to recompose myself while in that state. I never saw a single one of those dogs but they left me quite rattled. I’m normally a dog lover and get along great with dogs but that was not an enjoyable experience, even though it all turned out all right in the end.

  • Peter says:

    Alan, you’re braver than I! I get terrified when dogs come roaring out into the road after me, even the ones I can clearly see are playing….don’t know why, fear just kicks in.

    or maybe it’s karma because a lot of my CX training includes chasing my own dog ;)
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/pwadsworth/544159710/lightbox/
    He’s a mad sprinter.

  • Michael says:

    Pepper spray is more effective on humans then dogs. Dog’s don’t have tear ducts and while pepper spray might stop them momentarily, it won’t stop them for long. However, if you rub the sweat out of your eyes after spraying pepper spray, it will stop you.

  • Donald Bybee says:

    I have never been chased in town. Most owners are smart enough to keep their dogs leashed for fear they will get hit by a car. I ride on country roads quit a bit and on the quit ones I will be chased often. I typically try and remember to carry “Halt” which is a dog specific low intensity pepper spray. (supposedly a bit more humane than using real pepper spray). By coincidence I never had it out when actually chased. Usually I will just try and out run them and give voice commands.

    The time I had it ready I was climbing Seven Devils Road in Oregon with a full touring load. There were two large Golden Retreivers waiting for me in the road at the top of the hill. I had my Halt at hand and was ready for attack. I was climbing so slow though that before I reached the top of the hill they got bored and went back and laid down on the porch. One of the few advantages for being a slow rider.

    Don
    Sacramento, Ca

  • CedarWood says:

    My grandmother would stop and give the chasing dogs a lecture. In a stern, condescending tone of voice, she would inform them that, “Proper dogs don’t engage in such shameful behavior as chasing people…”, etc. They immediately deflated, slinking away with their tail between their legs, sometimes yelping unhappily. You’d have thought she’d beaten them, but she never touched them.

    When the dogs along my commute bark, I tell them hello and good day. They all know me and shut up. Sometimes they come out just so I can pet them. But yeah, there’s one or two meaner ones, and those I worry about.

  • Blutarsky says:

    “When a Dog runs at you whistle for him”

    -Thoreau

  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    I admire your attitude on this topic.

    While your suggestions are great, they do not cover 2 scenarios in which cyclists can get hurt on a bike because of a dog. One, is when the dog appears in front of the bike suddenly and the cyclist has no time to react – so they either hit the dog or suddenly swerve – taking a bad fall, or getting hit by traffic as a result. The other situation is when a person is afraid of dogs and is simply incapable of employing the tricks/remedies suggested.

    Unfortunately, I know of quite a few cases where a cyclist was injured because of an encounter with a dog. And while I cannot blame the dogs, I do very much blame the owners whose responsibility is to keep them leashed.

  • Peter says:

    That sit command is a great idea. I encounter many dogs on my rural commute. The last 2 days I had the same dog come at me and I never thought of the “sit” command. I will try it. I actually did the opposite. I maintained the pace and when he was still out of sight but I could hear him coming, I started calling out in a calm but confident voice “good dog”, “how ya doin’ bud?” and he stopped and turned around. I think it was probably a nicer dog that I ran into…who knows. Certainly being Alpha Male with a strong command makes sense to me though…

    Peter

  • Archergal says:

    @Peter: You know, I used to do that with dogs (slowing down and talking sweetly to them). Not sure why I stopped, because it worked too.

    I blame Cesar Milan. (just kidding)

  • ingo says:

    the thing with the water bottle seems to work, at least for Snoopy ;-)

    http://comics.com/zoom/333910/

 
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